Showing posts with label Microsoft Word. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Microsoft Word. Show all posts

17 January 2022

Next to Last Step

I always read my work aloud as the last step in my editing/revision, but there's one last step I take before that. It's the "Readability Statistics" in the review menu of Microsoft word. When I "Review" with "spelling and grammar check," this chart appears after I've made or ignored all the corrections. This is after my final pass-through on the most recent Woody Guthrie novel, Words of Love.

We see a word count, character (letter) count, sentence count, paragraphs, sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters (letters) per word. I don't pay much attention to these, but Microsoft uses them to determine the values below them: Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level. The grade level is in grade and months as a decimal : 7.3 means seventh-grade, third month.

The Reading ease is the percentage of readers at that grade level who can understand that passage. Basically, long sentences and long words are harder to understand, especially if they appear in a long paragraph. My average paragraph is probably five or six sentences. But sometimes, you want something longer.

This is the same tool applied to a long paragraph at the beginning of the late Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which tells how she rebuilt her life after both her husband and grown daughter died unexpectedly within months of each other. John Gregory Dunne suffered a heart attack, and she called 911.

This paragraph is 310 words, or 23 sentences long, more what I think of as Henry James or James Joyce terrain. You could "correctly" divide it into several shorter ones, but Didion uses one long paragraph to show how the events and her thoughts jumble in a huge confusing rush. Her last understated sentence wraps everything up like a hammer blow to the chest.

That long paragraph is short words, averaging four characters each, and 13 words per sentence. It works out to fifth-grade-seventh-month reading level, and 77.9 % of readers at that level being able to understand it.

Reading level is somewhat arbitrary. It uses the number of syllables in a 100-word sample to measure level with no regard to content. Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time occasionally sounds like My Weekly Reader because the text tries to reduce complex math and quantum physics to layman's terms.

All of this is interesting, but SO WHAT? Well, look at the last statistic on the chart. I care about it because it shows how your writing will "sound." It's the percentage of PASSIVE verbs in your selection. Didion's is 8.6, which is very high, but it's appropriate because she is powerless in the scene, at the mercy of forces beyond her control. Strunk and White say to use the active rather than the passive voice, but Strunk made that same distinction.

My novels are usually at about a 4th grade reading level (It doesn't sound dumb, trust me) and I strive for no more than 2% passive verbs. Summaries and shorter selections tend to be higher. Most of my blogs are more, but I can live with it. For fun, type about 200 words from Hemingway, Crane, King, Fitzgerald, Lippman, Rozan, or Child into your computer and see what their stats are.

The newer Microsoft programs include the readability stats in the review. If you have an older Microsoft program, you can add that command in your editing. I'm not sure you can do it with a MAC, because I've never used one. Here's how:

Click on the little carat to the right of your command icons, and you'll see the drop-down menu. Click on the top line "customize quick access toolbar." (Picture on the left).

Then highlight "More commands," at the bottom of the drop-down list. That's the picture below this paragraph.

When you choose "More commands," you'll get another screen with "quick access toolbar" highlighted, and a long list of commands to the right of that.

At the top of that list, the picture below this paragraph, you'll see "popular commands." Click on the arrow to the right of it, and you'll get three choices. Click on "All Commands."

This is what you'll see, a very long list. Scroll down to Readability Statistics (It may have a new name now, Microsoft keeps changing it, so I have to look for it every time I get a new computer. It might be Reading View Research now, or something else).

When you find it, highlight it, then click "Add," the button in the middle between the two columns. The command will appear in the right hand column, which is the commands you use, and you're ready to go.

Obviously, since this is a computer program and we all use idioms in our writing, it's not foolproof. But I like to have a sense of how active or passive a work is before I do the final read-through-aloud. If I see a lot of passive verbs, I make a point of changing some to active. I don't take the reading level too seriously because it's so arbitrary. Once upon a time, the New York Times read at about a tenth-grade level, but that was decades ago. I have no idea what it– or any other publication– reads at now.

The stats give me a sense of how my writing SOUNDS, and that's crucial to me. I want it to sound like a human voice speaking.

Remember Elmore Leonard's rule: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

22 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Chapters

Microsoft Wordby Leigh Lundin

Last week, I promised to show you how to create self-updating chapters. We're going to do much more than that today. No one's ever accused Microsoft of being user-friendly, so let's get started.


You've probably heard of styles and style sheets. If you're a writer and especially if you write novels, learning how to use them saves you time and effort in the long run.

Why? Why not select bold and italic as I've always done? And selecting double-space isn't so difficult, is it?

Because, Grasshopper, we'll do much more than that, and if you save them in a template (.dot or .dotx) then you don't have to redo them each time.

The screen shots come from MS Word 2011 for Macintosh but, depending upon which of the many versions of Word you're using, yours should prove similar.


StyleMicrosoft Word defaults to a style sheet called Normal. Through use, this generalized template can change over time. If your nine-year-old daughter creates notes for her special friends, you may end up with 18-point lavender Nuptials Script as your new setting. Even if that doesn't happen, Microsoft's Normal style isn't suitable for submission to editors; at the very least indentation and double-spacing won't be set.

To create your new style settings, find the Style dialogue box. The two most recent versions of MS Word for Windows are exceptionally obnoxious– I know at least one editor who still uses MS Word 2003 and doesn't plan migrating any time soon. If you're using MS Word 2007 or 2010, check under that little gear icon for the Format menu and then look for Style. Macintosh users will see the Format menu where it's always been and can select Style from that. Click New.
style: paragraphWe could use Normal style (not the same as Normal template– see what I mean?) but let's set a style specifically for the body of manuscripts. Call it 'paragraph' and type that in. Set the font to Times or Times New Roman unless your editor requests Courier. Professionals recommend 10- to 12-point as a standard type size. 10-point saves paper if you're writing a novel, 12-point saves your editor's eyes. If you're submitting electronically, by all means give your editor a break.

We've chosen 'paragraph' as our main formatting name, but you may want to create particular styles in the course of your novel, styles such as 'eMail' or 'telegram' or even 'suicide note'.
Format submenu: paragraphNote the Format submenu (which is not the same as the hi-level Format menu we used to navigate here) in the lower left corner. Select Paragraph, which we'll use to set block formatting.
paragraph info 1Set the alignment to Left, the line spacing to Double, and then set the indentation to your editor's demands. In the US, that will likely be between a quarter and half inch; in the rest of the world, set the indentation to 1cm (which, at .39 inch also works as a good in-between setting for the USA).
paragraph info 2At the top, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn all those settings off, which helps editors estimate how much space your article will take.

Click Okay and Apply, and if you wish, save your work as a template, say, My

Chapter and Verse

My friend, Claire, sent me her novel where she'd carefully (and manually) numbered each chapter, but chapter 17 appeared twice and another two may have been out of order. Like page numbering, MS Word will automatically number your chapters– even renumber them when you add chapters in the middle– if you set up your styles correctly. Here's how to do that.

style numbering As outlined above, to bring up the Style dialogue box, locate the Format menu, select Style, and click on New again. Name this new style 'chapter' and set the 'Style Type', 'Style Based On', and 'Style for Following Paragraph' to 'paragraph'. In other words, you're piggy-backing your 'chapter' style on your previous 'paragraph' style to get the correct font, size, and double-spacing.
paragraph info 3 As above, click Paragraph in the Format submenu, but this time set the indentation back to 0. Set the 'Outline Level' to Level 1; this is where the magic starts to happen. Click Okay.
paragraph info 4 As before, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn on 'Keep with Next' and 'Keep Lines Together'. Click Okay.
Format submenu: numberingOpen the Format submenu again and this time select Numbering…
numbering menu 1 You'll see a dialogue box titled something like 'Bullets and Numbering', which allows you to set up lists, but also controls outlines. If you select 'Outline Numbered', you may notice a thumbnail preview that has 'Chapter' in it, which can save us time. Select it and then click Customize.
numbering menu 2 You shouldn't have to do much other than check settings, which should look similar to that shown here. You may click the Font button to confirm that we're indeed using bold Times. When satisfied, click Okay (once), Okay (again), and Close (or Apply if you happen to have the cursor positioned where you want a Chapter heading).
chapter 0 Anytime you wish to create a new chapter, position the cursor at your chosen location. Then from the 'chapter' setting in your Styles button bar or from the Format > Styles > chapter menus, select chapter and congratulate yourself when the appropriately numbered chapter falls into place. Because we instructed the 'chapter' style that you wished to follow on with the 'paragraph' style, you should be find your everything in place to continue writing.
chapter 1 Enhance your template with your by-line and the heading as discussed last week. Save the template when you're satisfied.

Now you're set to crank out that next award-winning novel or short story. Good luck!

15 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Headers

Microsoft Word Sometimes writers need to work with the technical aspects of formatting a document. This often means setting up style sheets for a document and then saving them as a template. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but a couple of topics elude writers, such as how to automatically update chapter numbers and how to set page numbers and a word count.

Kicking and screaming, a couple of months ago I upgraded from Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh to Word 2011, only because the beautiful new MacBook Air (a piece of sculpture) didn't support the eight year old MS Office. I abhorred 'improvements' Microsoft made to the Windows versions, which rendered the venerable suite unusable except to the most anally ardent users.

BaconAlthough I retained the templates I'd created before, I decided to format a document for a manuscript. It's taken HOURS to figure out the new and improved Microsoft Word. With that in mind, I'll pass on a few tips just for creating smart headers that will maintain the date, page numbers, and word count.

Creating MS Word Headers Without Slitting Your Wrists

So, let's say you set up standard document formatting… double-spaced 12 point Times or Courier, the first line of each paragraph indented, but you want the headings to look professional. Here's how to do it.

View > Header Go to the View menu and choose Header and Footer, i.e, View > Header and Footer. If you happen to be in Print Layout mode (Page Layout in previous versions) and can see or estimate where the header is, you can also double-click the header.
You should see a display that looks something like this. Note check box that says Different First Page… Don't check it yet, but you will in a moment. If you click on the Header icon, you're offered a plethora of not-very-useful headers. Unless you want to build your header manually, select the first one in the upper left.
Now select the pieces that say [Type Text] and enter your particulars, generally your real name, the manuscript title, and the page number. It's wise to place the page number in the upper right corner of each page to make life easy for editors. If you have thoughts of submitting your manuscript outside the United States, consider the convention of setting your surname in all caps; i.e, SHAKESPEARE, William. To create a page number that updates for each page, type the word 'page' with a blank following and then click the Page # icon.
Once you've established page 2 through 844 of your opus, check-mark the Different First Page setting. This allows you to build a header unique to page 1 containing your true name, address, telephone, eMail address, date, and word count. An actual copyright is unnecessary because publications will copyright your manuscript for you, but a © is a relatively unobtrusive reminder when you submitt the bloody thing. In days gone by, authors often included their SSN, which is no longer safe, but at least one instructor suggests including the last four digits of your SSN as an 'ID'.
Microsoft Word can use 'fields' that can be updated by the program or by the author. You can set Field Shading in Preferences to make them more visible while editing and the shading won't show when printing. The Page # above is an example of such a field. Another is Date, which you can set by clicking the Date icon. If you want only the year displayed, right click the field and select Toggle Field Codes. This reveals the internal code behind the field. If you want to display only the year, edit the code until it reads: {DATE \@ "yyyy"}. Then Toggle Field Codes again.
Field dialog box Editors require us to include the number of words rounded to the nearest 100 or so, but you can include an exact word count in the following way. Position the cursor where you want the word count. In the Insert menu, select Field…; i.e, Insert > Field… That invokes a dialogue box. In the left panel, select Document Information and from the right panel select NumWords. Click OK. You'll see the number of words currently in your document (if any).
Field menu The good news is you can keep the number-of-words field updated, but Word has a minor hitch: It doesn't keep a running tally in your document. Instead it only updates the field (a) when you Print or Print Preview the document or (b) when you manually tell it to update. To manually update, either select Print Preview or double-click the header to edit it and right-click the field. Select Update Field. You'll see the new word count.
Why go through all this work for one document? Because if you create a generic document with your name, address, word count, double-spacing, etc, you can save the document as boilerplate or 'template' to reuse for each new story. From the File menu, select Save As… and then set the Format to Word Template (.dot or .dotx). I.e, File > Format… > Format > Word Template. Give a name you remember. The next time you create a new document, select File > New from Template… and look for your prototype.

Templates become more valuable if you're writing a book, because you can create one that will update chapter numbers automatically, even if you decide to insert a new chapter in the middle of your book. That, however, is a topic for another time.